Hole Card Strategy for Texas Hold ‘em


When playing a hand of Texas Hold ‘em, you are always going to be dealt two hole cards. Each hand, the first decision you have to make is whether to fold or to play, and a lot rides on the choice.

So, how do you know what hands should be tossed away immediately and which should be seen through? Here are a few tips to make that decision a little easier.

Know When to Fold

It’s tough for beginning Hold ‘em players to get used to, but if you’re playing smart poker, you’ll likely only play two or three of every 10 hands you’re dealt. Avoid getting impatient and playing hands that you shouldn’t just to get in on the action, and try not to be fazed by bold players who seem to play every hand.

Strength of Your Hand

While the position you’re sitting in relative to the blinds is definitely going to affect what hands you play – we’ll get more into that a little later – a strong hand is a strong hand. Though there are exceptions to every rule, there are some hands that you’re going to play just about every time you get them.

Pairs are always strong hole cards. A pair of aces is the strongest hand you can be dealt, for example, but anything down to a pair of sevens or eights is a good hand.

Don’t discount suited hands, either. Two suited cards that are both over nine – like ace-king, queen-nine or jack-10 – are also considered strong hands. If the hands aren’t suited, but both face cards – the king of clubs and the jack of spades, for example – it is usually worth playing.

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Two suited cards, both with a value higher than 9, are considered a strong hand.

On the other hand, if you are dealt two unsuited, non-face cards, you’re likely going to toss it away. Those are easy folds – once you know how to identify them, you won’t have to linger on the decision and are unlikely to regret folding. Even a face card paired with a non-suited lower card is generally going to be folded without too much thought.

What makes those folds so easy? Seven-two offsuit is widely considered the worst hand you can be dealt because it gives you no opportunity to make a straight, which can only consist of five cards, or a flush, and even if you pair either card, its likely that someone will have a higher pair than you.

Everything in between is where it gets trickier, and its where strategy comes in. Lower pairs, an ace with an unsuited seven or eight, or a suited nine and eight all have the potential to be decent hands if you hit a good flop. They could also not match anything, and leave you without a leg to stand on.

Table Position

The choice of what to fold and what to play will partly depend on where you’re sitting.

It takes some players a little longer to get the hang of taking their position into account, but it’s importance can’t be overstressed.

Being the first to act is a tough place to be in, especially if you’re unsure of your hand. Say you’re dealt a king-nine suited. It’s a decent hand, and could be worth paying to see a flop.

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Know your table position, play always starts to the left of the dealer.

If you’re in the dealer position – that is, you haven’t put in any blinds to play and will be the last to bet before the action goes back to the blinds – you get to see what almost every other player at the table choses to do before you have to act. If someone makes a big move and raises the blinds before the flop, they probably have something stronger than you do, and you can fold that hand without losing a dime.

Now, say you’re the first to act. You still haven’t put blinds in, but you have no idea what anyone else has or plans on doing. If you put in the blinds to see a flop, someone may raise you, and you’ll either lose the money you put in or be paying more than you should to see the flop.

Because of this, you’ll generally only want to bet if you have an undoubtedly strong hand when you are the first to act.

On the other hand, if you’re in a late position and a lot of people ahead of you are folding or limping into the pot, it could be an indication that the other players don’t have terribly strong hands either, meaning yours is looking a little better. It could be worth your money to see the flop. Learn more about table position strategy here.

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Pocket Aces are always considered a strong hand and a good bet.

Betting on Your Strong Hand

For this example, say you were dealt pocket aces. Again, this is the strongest hand you can get, pre-flop. So how do you play it? Here’s where personal strategy comes in, though there are a couple things to keep in mind.

You could slow-play your hand. Just put in blinds, or maybe a small raise. This will lure more people in, making your potential winnings greater. However, you do run the risk that someone with a weaker starting hand decides to bet, and catches a lucky flop to beat you out.

Another option is to bet big. If you are short stack – that is, the player with the fewest chips – or close to it, this could mean pushing all in. You could scare people out of playing against you this way, reducing your potential winnings, but you would also limit the number of callers, placing yourself in a better position.

There is, of course, somewhere between slow-playing and scaring the other players out of playing, and choices like that are what make poker a game of skill and opportunity instead of luck.

You’ll find what works best you with time and practice.